Sean Doherty: Wade Goodall's Pentacoastal Might Be the Last Film of its Kind

20 May 2020 7 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer


For a while there last year we saw a lot of Wade Goodall. But not much at all. 

His white four-bee was parked across the road from the Surfing World office in the Byron industrial estate. He’d get there early, leave late, but was only spotted occasionally walking around out the front of his office, disoriented, squinting into the sun, having just spent hours working on 1700 hand-drawn, water coloured frames which he’d use to animate the opening 1:15 of his new movie, Pentacoastal. There was a lot of work in there and plenty of subliminal messaging – pentagrams, devil horns, Ace Frehley and the Melvins – much of which will fly by unnoticed. The devil is in the detail, as they say.

Around that time last year I’d interviewed Wade for a feature on the guys at the Drag Board Co, who made “soft boards for hard c*nts”. They had a factory two doors down and Wade was riding for them. Wade surfed these strange hybrid boogers in the same quirky fashion he rode his regular surfboards. But it was Drag’s disturbing, discordant series of short films that really interested him.

This is from Surfing World’s review of Drag’s Rip 2: Fully Ripped:

“All of this goes down with a ripped off soundtrack that jumps jarringly from Billy Idol to Primus, and the end result is a lo-fi, conspiratorial window into the dark suburban horrors that happen every day on a beach near you. You feel something bad has happened to bring us here, but you’re not sure what. And who the hell are these people? It’s piss-funny in parts, but in others feels like a kidnap ransom video.” 

“They’re more trashy than the old surf vids,” offered Wade of the Drag movies. “It’s not like guys whacking it and chicks on the beach in bikinis, it’s a whole new genre. It’s that honest, realistic, hilarious beach culture.” More than the film itself, he liked the way the Drag guys – boogieboarders Big Dav and Maddog – came from the far reaches of the surfing galaxy and had a totally unique view of it as a result. “I love how they don’t have anyone to answer to. It’s really refreshing to have people who come outside of surfing and cause a stir. It’s nice when the circle jerk gets disrupted.”

Wade’s been doing that himself for a long while now. Going back a decade, Wade and his pal, Jake Donlen produced their Runamuk series that sat as a looser, anarchic counterpoint to the bigger, slicker productions of his sponsor at the time, Billabong.

Pentacoastal lands somewhere in the middle. It feels Independent, but with an accounts department in California to deal with the invoices for flights and music clearances. Vans is a monster company, but it’s surf team doesn’t feel like a surf team… more an assortment of individuals and misfits lassoed together. This doesn’t feel like a surf team film at all. They simply shot what was in front of them. The cameos from the international guys were cool, but it’s the surfing of Wade and Harry Bryant that carry large parts of the film.

In terms of tone, with Pentacoastal Wade took the dissociative suburban Wollongong beach vibes from the Drag movies and drove them along gunbarrel highways, out into the sinister emptiness of the Australian desert. Throw in the low drone of a Grinderman track and you have something equal parts captivating and unsettling. Wade mentioned he’d been watching a lot of classic Australian outback horror – Wake In Fright in particular – while he and Shane Fletcher were working on their edit. The movie is swimming in light and sunshine, but there’s a dark undertone humming through it. It dances between light and dark but that’s also Wade himself. He likes head-to-toe black, but he’ll comically ride a long-booger for hours. 

The movie. Oh, it’s really good.

The opening sequences shot down in the Bight, cut to some funeral sludge rock and peppered with shots of societal wreckage set the tone. Dark water. Dark reef below. The one stark jump is when the movie lands in the Ments and the colour palette switches from black to ice blue. It feels like it’s been a couple of years since we saw an A-crew of surfers – and an A-crew of shooters – worked Lance’s. The angle shot from the shore, across the reef, make it look quicker and heavier and more perfect than you might’ve remembered it. Finally seeing Dane outside of Ventura county limits was similarly refreshing. The backhand show at Macaronis felt vintage 2012. Wade went with him all the way.

The P-Pass closer brings the movie home.

That’s a violent wave, and yet Wade got out there and manhandled it. I’m presuming it was Shano in the channel shooting, and he needs a huge rap here. That’s a mean swim but the wave at 28:30 feels like it was shot in a studio. As Wade corners the reef and the wave opens up he’s suddenly just there… standing there as it all happens around him. You initially see the tension leave his physical form, but as he surfs past the camera you also see his face soften. The scene is one giant exhale. The wave breathes. Wade breathes. You can see the moment writ large on his sunscreened face as he flies past the camera. It feels like the long overdue heroic denouement of the Wade Goodall story. His surfing reaching a long overdue peak after two kids, two broken legs and a couple of broken surfing dreams.

I’m happy for Wade. Talking with him last year, the chance to not only make this movie with total creative freedom, but to finally showcase his own surfing on a big stage seemed to be weighing heavy on him. Wade’s one of those guys blessed with almost limitless talent, but with a more limited supply of self-belief. He’s long been his own toughest critic, but he’s put a flag in the ground here with his film. It’s something remarkable. That P-Pass smile will be hanging around for a while.

Pentacoastal however might also be the last film of its kind.

The big budget, ensemble cast independent surf film went the way of the dodo with Dear Suburbia almost a decade ago. The GFC took care of that. The big budget, ensemble cast brand film… well, Pentacoastal might be the last of those. Vans might well have been the last surf company with a marketing budget extending beyond a five-minute sizzle clip. The surf industry will wheeze for years after the pandemic. Austerity will rule and flying surf stars around the world to shoot will seem like a decadent luxury from a decadent time. The idea itself of paying surf stars to surf is beginning to feel anachronistic. It feels like the sun is setting on the age of the sponsored surfer. And if that’s the case, the fact that it’s Wade Goodall who’s had the last say in all of this is poignant.

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